‘Nose to tail’ eating is en vogue these days and thank goodness it is. The stigma that offal and cheap cuts of meat are of poor quality has been around since at least the Victorian era. The anglophile French chef Alexis Soyer despaired that so much good food was going to waste; he couldn’t understand why we turned our noses up at it whilst countries like France ate the whole animal without worrying about such things. This was all compounded further during the rationing people faced, where there was no choice but to eat cheaper cuts and offal.
Now that times are tough these cuts are appearing in our butchers’ shops once more; hopefully it is also because of the good work of today’s chefs and food writers promoting and cooking with these ingredients and showing us all that good food does not mean expensive food. When our counry’s finances turn around, I do hope that offal doesn’t get dropped for the expensive cuts again. It is so important that we treat our animals with respect by eating the whole thing, after all it helps the environment by reducing waste, and whilst we are doing this, we are opening ourselves to whole other gastronomic world previously veiled by sirloins and silversides. It can only be a good thing.
I have always been an offal fan and I can honestly say whether liver, kidney, sweetbread or brain, I have never eaten a bit of animal that I have not liked. All those odd bits, wobbly bits and squidgy bits have such an amazing range of textures and flavours and I thought I would add my favourite recipes to the blog. I am going to start this a little backwards with oxtail soup – I suppose I am championing tail to nose eating…
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My favourite soup of all time. A few years ago this was actually quite an expensive dish to make – offal was unpopular, inflating the price. These days you can pick one up for about £4 from your high-street butcher. This soup is full of rich beefy flavour that is heightened by the inclusion of a bottle of stout – the darkest you can find, Guinness works well though I like to use Marston’s Oyster Stout. The most important ingredient here is time – to make a good soup with large tender pieces of meat you need the soup to be barely simmering for at least 2 hours. A full simmer often leads to tough meat that loses too much of its flavour to the surrounding stock.
The recipe itself only seems to appear in the latter half of the eighteenth century and apparently came from France. I can’t believe this recipe is so recent, I imagined that we’d been eating a version of it for a millennium. If anyone can find an earlier reference, please let me know.
beef dripping or lard
2 oxtails, cut into 2-3 inch pieces and trimmed of very large pieces of fat
2 onions, finely chopped
2 leeks, finely sliced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 sticks of celery, diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 healthy sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
300 ml stout
1.5 litres (2 ½ pints) beef stock
salt and black pepper
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs mushroom ketchup (optional)
4 tbs finely chopped parsley
Heat a small amount of dripping or lard in a heavy-based stockpot or large cast-iron casserole on a high heat – the highest you dare go – add the pieces of oxtail and brown thoroughly on all sides – this should release their fat, quickening the whole process. Don’t overcrowd the pan; cook in batches if need be. Remove the oxtail and set aside before browning the onion, leek, carrot and garlic. Add the thyme and bay leaves then the stout, making sure you get all the burnt bits scraped off that will have built up from all that hard-frying.
Add the stock and browned oxtail and bring to a simmer. The soup needs to quietly tick over for at least two hours, three if you can.
Strain the soup into another pan and remove the pieces of oxtail, picking out the meat which should come away easily from the bone. Cut into small pieces of you do so wish. Return the meat to the rich stock. If you want you can throw away the vegetables, but I prefer to pop them back into the pot too. We need our roughage now, don’t we? It’s best to let the soup cool so that you can skim off any unwanted fat – plus a little waiting time helps the flavours to develop.
Reheat and season well with salt and pepper, add the Worcestershire sauce and mushroom ketchup if using. Taste and add more if you like. Finally stir through the parsley and serve hot with buttered toast and a glass of stout.